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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

4.17 | 2127 ratings

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5 stars In the early 1970s, when Emerson, Lake and Palmer were at the height of their creativity and popularity, it was still somewhat of a novelty to hear a synthesizer. Synth recordings such as Walter (now Wendy) Carlos' SWITCHED ON BACH and SWITCHED ON SANTA were bestsellers, and my older sister and I would listen to the electronic drums on the Doors' "The Wasp," and the synth passage in ELP's "From the Beginning" (which she had on 45 -- remember those?) over and over again, fascinated by the other-worldly sound of the new keyboard. Along with synth pioneers like Carlos, J. M. Jarre and Tangerine Dream, Keith Emerson was a leading explorer and master of the still-evolving instrument, which features very heavily on BRAIN SALAD SURGERY. (The album's unusual title comes from a British euphemism for a particular sexual act -- enough said!)

Though I regard this disc as an undeniable five-star milestone and "masterpiece of progressive rock," the novelty of synth-driven music has long since faded, and therefore, for many, "BSS" (and the music of ELP in general) may not have stood the test of time as strongly as other important, but less synth-dominated prog albums of the era. One hears precious little overt use of the instrument on the radio these days. (I suspect, in fact, that many younger music fans and bands find the heavy use of synths to be rather old-fashioned, if not downright "corny.") Today, the synthesizer is mainly found in the background, relegated to imparting "atmosphere," and rarely taking the lead.

Thus, newcomers to progressive rock may, after a cursory listen, tend to dismiss the music of Emerson, Lake and Palmer as "dated." This would be a pity, because the trio released some great albums in their heyday, of which BRAIN SALAD SURGERY -- as most ELP fans will concur -- may well be their best.

In addition to the dominant presence of keyboard whiz Emerson, bassist and singer Greg Lake has an impressive voice that was well-suited to the new, somewhat grandiose music that was prog. Lake's vocals had played a major role in making the first two King Crimson albums the memorable, groundbreaking efforts that they were, and his singing is again in top form on this session.

Drummer Carl Palmer was also an essential component of the unique ELP equation (he still scores very well in "best prog drummer" polls on the Archives Forums), and his accomplished work is nothing short of magnificent here.

Musicianship aside, BRAIN SALAD SURGERY's five songs are all quite strong, at least for my tastes. "Jerusalem" is an effective, even moving presentation of the classic William Blake poem/English hymn, and the adaptation of Ginastera's "Toccata" provides ample evidence of both Emerson's estimable synth skills, and Palmer's prowess behind the drum kit. (As a sci-fi devouring teen, I always envisioned scenes of futuristic "War of the Worlds" style battle to accompany this piece, and it still evokes such images for me to this day. "Still...You Turn Me On," while my least favourite here, is nonetheless a solid Lake ballad/love song, and often a particular hit with the fairer sex (as well as prog-playing, would-be Lotharios and Casanovas!) The humourous "Benny the Bouncer," with its precise brushed snare, pseudo-ragtime piano, breaking glass, and Pete Sinfield (early Crimson lyricist) tale of a fatal barroom brawl, is an amusing change of pace, and a two-minute showcase for the band's versatility and marked willingness to inject some humour into an oft-times rather pompous musical form.

Like other reviewers before me, however, I reserve my highest praise for the near thirty-minute "Karn Evil Nine." This terrific suite contains some of the group's most outstanding music, and convincingly elevates what might otherwise have been an average ELP album to the lofty status of "masterpiece." The Lake and Sinfield lyrics, which depict a jaded, decadent environmentally-devastated and computer-ruled future, are, in retrospect, almost visionary, and Emerson and Palmer's piano and percussion on the "1st Impression-Part 2," in particular, are especially good.

Overall then, BRAIN SALAD SURGERY is my favourite ELP album, and one of the more important early recordings of the genre. Essential for any comprehensive progressive rock collection!

Peter | 5/5 |


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